If one of your New Year's resolutions was to do more cooking without following a specific recipe, soups are a great place to start. They're relatively easy to make and very forgiving of mistakes. Here's a basic template:
First, take a look through our Soup Month posts for inspiration - Before you head to the grocery store or fire up the stove, have an idea for what you want to make. Are you in the mood for creamy or chunky? Hearty or light? Vegetarian or with meat?
Maybe one recipe grabs your attention, but you want to tweak it to use what's in the fridge. That's cooking beyond the recipe, too!
Choose Your Ingredients
• Vegetables - This is the flavor foundation of your soup. If you're at a loss, start with the classic mire poix of one onion, 3-4 stalks of celery, and 2 carrots. You're guaranteed good flavor with these three veggies. Add other vegetables according to what you're craving or what you have on hand. Also think about adding a can of tomatoes.
• Meat or other protein - This is the body of your soup and what will make your soup so satisfying to eat. If you're cooking a meat-based soup, 1-2 pounds of meat will be perfect. If you're making a veggie soup, think about adding a block of diced tofu or can of beans.
• Grains or noodles - These are the "extras" and they add texture and substance. If they cook relatively quickly, the grains can be cooked right along with the soup. If you're using pasta, it's better to cook them separately and add them at the very end to avoid over-cooking.
• Liquid base - You can use vegetable broth, chicken broth, beef broth, or even simple water. There are no hard and fast rules about when to use a particular broth. While vegetable soups usually use vegetable broth and chicken soups use chicken broth, it's fine to switch it up. Think about the other ingredients you're planning on using and how they will taste with the broth.
• Flavorings and spices - Here's where you can really get creative and make the soup your own! Look to favorite recipes for inspiration, or check out these posts:
Indian Ingredients and Flavors
Asian Ingredients and Flavors
Latin American Ingredients and Flavors
French Ingredients and Flavors
Italian Ingredients and Flavors
Sense of Place Series - Ingredients and Flavors by Region in the US
• Build flavor - We talked quite a bit about this last week, and now it's time to put your practice to good use! Think about little tricks like searing your meat, deglazing the pan, and adding wine as ways to amp up the flavor in your soup.
At this point, we often find it helpful to write down a rough recipe, including all the ingredients we plan to use and the basic cooking method. This way, we don't accidentally leave something out!
Once you're all set with the ingredients you want to use, it's time to actually start cooking! For a good, basic cooking technique, go to Faith's post on Making Soup from Almost Anything. She describes cooking the vegetables, adding seasonings, and how long to cook the soup.
Are you game for creating your own soup recipe this weekend?!
(Image: Flickr member Marco Arment licensed under Creative Commons)